Flashback: Elton John—Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (Part 2)

Elton John – Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
MCA MCA2-10003 (double LP)

Since I bought this album in the spring of 1974, a couple of the things I remember about the time are lots of sunny days, and the introduction of Mr. Pibb, Coca-Cola’s Dr. Pepper wannabe soda.

The sunny days are probably self-explanatory. The album being new to me in the spring of 1974, I would have been listening to it a lot throughout the spring and summer (at least until “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” and Caribou were released). Though the song “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” will always carry some of that “green glow” feeling that I associate with fall and winter evenings, the album as a whole is still very much a shades up, windows wide open on a sunny day (summer vacation!) listening experience.

Nowadays, of course, I’m most likely to be listening in the car, where I can crank up the volume without having to worry about disturbing anybody else in the house. “Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding”, “Bennie and the Jets”, “Grey Seal”, “Jamaica Jerk-off”, “All the Girls Love Alice”, and the one-two punch of “Your Sister Can’t Twist (But She Can Rock ‘n Roll)” and “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” are all very well-suited for this kind of listening experience.

Mr. Pibb was another new experience of sorts for me. New records were one thing, but the idea of a new soft drink was a concept that had never occurred to me before. Though I now know that Mr. Pibb had been introduced in 1972, that was apparently in limited areas only; it wasn’t until later that it was made available everywhere else.

I took to this new beverage right away. I already liked Dr. Pepper, but never really got to drink it outside of movie theaters (I don’t know why). To my undiscerning palate, Mr. Pibb tasted just like Dr. Pepper—obviously part of Coca-Cola’s intention to snare those unwitting consumers who still couldn’t tell the difference between Coke and Pepsi. Even the name was a blatant rip-off.

Anyway, I liked it so much that for a while I actually saved the empty bottles. I don’t remember exactly why anymore; it’s not as though I expected them to become collectors’ items or anything. Whatever I was thinking, I quickly accumulated quite the collection in one corner of my bedroom before deciding that this was just stupid and finally throwing them all away (it was the 1970s—we didn’t recycle yet).

(Oddly enough, I did the very same thing a few years later with Perrier bottles, and then again many years later with some other beverage. So much for lessons learned…)

The thrill of my initial Mr. Pibb experience eventually waned; nowadays, I can’t even drink the stuff at all, since I’m allergic to high-fructose corn syrup. I prefer Dr. Pepper (or, more accurately, Diet Dr. Pepper) anyway.

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, meanwhile, has remained a favorite. Among the albums in the Elton John catalogue, Tumbleweed Connection and Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy come close, but neither quite achieves the same heights.

I’ve owned a number of different editions over the years:
• the original MCA LP
• a dbx-encoded audiophile edition (a Panasonic tape deck I owned had a dbx-decoder)
• the original MCA double CD
• the 1992 remastered Polydor CD
• the 1996 remastered Rocket/Island CD

Obviously, nothing will ever match that initial experience of buying the original LP when I was 11 years old. But the best of the versions I’ve owned over the years is the 1992 Polydor CD, issued as part of their Elton John Collection series of remasters. This series included the “classic” early albums, from Empty Sky through Rock of the Westies, plus the rarities/b-sides collection Rare Masters (which included the long out-of-print Friends soundtrack in its entirety), all re-mastered from the original British master tapes.

The subsequent Classic Years series of remasters, which appeared just four years later, were overseen by producer Gus Dudgeon, but applied some of the mastering techniques that were coming into vogue as part of the “Loudness Wars“—ironically, the exact opposite of the approach he took with 1983’s The Superior Sound of Elton John (1970–1975) CD-only compilation, in which Dudgeon remixed several tracks from the early Elton John albums to take maximum advantage of the dynamic range offered by the then-new CD format.

Ultimately, I decided that the greater dynamic range of the 1992 remasters was more to my liking, so that’s what I’ve stuck with. I haven’t bothered with any of the SACD or DVD-Audio audiophile remasters, nor the subsequent Deluxe Editions, since the quality of remasters these days is still largely hit-and-miss, even though more folks are now aware of what “loudness wars”-style brickwall compression does to sound quality. Also, I prefer having the entire album on one disc, whereas the Deluxe Editions have restored the album to two discs in order to fit bonus tracks.

Remember the “Desert Island Discs” game, where you make a list of the 10 records you’d want with you if you were stranded on a desert island (never mind the question of where you’d get the playback equipment or the electricity to power it)? Goodbye Yellow Brick Road would definitely be on my list…

—April 29, 2012